With the Seattle Mariners pursuing free agent starters like Doug Fister and Tyson Ross, Nate Karns could soon be available via trade and could be a low-cost pickup to supplement the Yankees pitching depth.
After an 86-76 season in which they finished three games out of a Wild Card spot, the Seattle Mariners have been aggressive on the trade market early this winter.
Taijuan Walker, a 24-year-old starting pitcher who struggled to a 9-8 record with a 4.22 ERA, was the first to go. Walker was traded along with shortstop Ketel Marte to the Arizona Diamondbacks for shortstop Jean Segura, Mitch Haniger, and a prospect. Next on the block was 2014 first-round draft pick Alex Jackson, who was traded to the Atlanta Braves for Rob Whalen and Max Povse.
Now, with main-stays Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton already occuping three rotation spots, and Whalen figuring to handle the a fourth. If the team adds another free agent starter as rumors suggest, than the Mariners suddenly have too many arms for five rotation spots.
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Enter the New York Yankees. With immense depth in their farm system, and a need for reliable starting pitching, the Yankees seem to be a perfect fit as a trade partner for Seattle. Karns is a more desirable asset than Ariel Miranda, who also could be an odd-man out.
While Karns’ first year in Seattle was disappointing, as he finished with 6-2 with a 5.15 ERA in 22 games (16 starts), he should be able to regain the form that allowed him to go 7-5 with a 3.67 ERA in 2015 with the Tampa Bay Rays.
Karns’ struggles can be traced to his high walk rate, as his BB/9 number jumped from 3.4 in 2015 to a startling 4.3 in 2016. An encouraging stat was his K/9 number, which sat at 9.6 in 2016.
Karns needs to throw strikes more consistently, something that pitching coach Larry Rothschild should be able to fix, as the Yankees allowed just 2.8 free passes every nine innings in 2016. Because of his poor 2016 campaign, Karns should not cost nearly as much as the Mariners gave up to acquire him.
As Yanks Go Yard contributor Phil Akre wrote earlier in the offseason, Luis Torrens is a prospect the Yankees can afford to relinquish because he’s blocked long-term by Gary Sanchez. The Mariners had almost zero production from the catcher spot in recent years, as former first-round pick Mike Zunino has struggled in his first four years, hitting at a .195 clip for his career.
Zunino struggled so badly that he eventually lost his starting job to defensive stalwart Chris Ianannetta. In Torrens, the Mariners would get a young, projectable catching prospect that can become a reliable starting catcher in the big leagues. MLB.com projects Torrens to be an overall average player, with above-average defense.
Streamer projects that Karns will have a respectable 2017 campaign, with a 9-9 record and a 4.12 ERA and 1.30 WHIP. Putting Karns in the back of the rotation will provide a safety net for Girardi if the younger options do not work out. Karns would also provide what every team loves to get from a fifth starter, and that is innings.
While not dominant, a fifth starter who can take the ball every five days and provide quality innings, keeping his team in the game, is a valuable commodity to have. Getting one on the cheap is not easy, and Cashman should act quickly.